Thursday, October 31, 2019

Sylvia Plath on No Man's Land

Image result for alice neel drawing
Alice Neel, Alice, 1932 (same year Plath was born)

This is a really excellent podcast episode reclaiming what is most valuable about Sylvia Plath.  I always feel there is an explanation needed in loving her work, its often thought of as melodrama, attractive to people similarly prone to what we know best about her depressed and suicidal mental state.  But that's not it and finally someone explains it.  Here it is, this is the secret: 

"You realize you've been distracted from the best of Plath which is her actual work not her biography...She wasn't necessarily a confessionalist but a surrealist."

Suicidal Ward, Philadelphia General Hospital, 1931, Pencil Drawing by Alice Neel(who I think can be similarly misunderstood)

I have read where both Plath and Neel commented that they were not mentally ill artists who were making work while sick.  And I don't think they were making work in spite of their illness.  I think they were brilliant, sensitized people making brilliant, sensitized work who also struggled.  But in the struggle they were not able to work, they were completely paralyzed by sickness.  And I think that is an important thing to remember, and respect, and not romanticize.  The work may touch back to personal experience but it is not just a mad retelling, it is altered and crafted, controlled expression aware and studied in the form of each artists' chosen medium.


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